What's your process? Characters and then world? Plot and then characters? Seat of your pants, or well planned outlines?
Honestly, it kind of depends on the story in question and what sort of story I'm putting together. At least with character versus world. Sometimes I get an idea for a setting first, and I love it, and I sit down and start figuring out how all the little aspects of it fit together. But other times, I have an idea for a character, and I start with that, building a basic outline and then building a world to get the details of said character worked out.
In other words, it can be one or the other. With Colony (Jungle's predecessor), I had the world figured out long before I had the characters locked down. I knew what Pisces was, how life on it worked, etc, all before I sat down and worked out Jake, Anna, and Sweets' characters. Even then, the first iteration of Jake and Sweets were duds. I actually wiped about 50,000 words of work when I realized they weren't working and went back to the drawing board. They're much better for it.
Shadow of an Empire on the other hand was the inverse. The character of Salitore Amazd came long before the world of Indrim (even though Indrim itself would appear "first" in Unusual Events). It actually came about because of a song (and I'm pretty sure I mention this in the intro to the book). I was listening to Propane Nightmares by Pendulum, and suddenly had an image of a "cowboy wizard" wandering the desert in a duster shooting magical bullets from his guns. Obviously the final product is quite a bit different from that, but that was the genesis of the idea. So I worked out some details about him, but only to a point as I needed some world to flesh out the specifics. So it went "character --> World --> finalize character." Meelo Karn, for the record, was built before the world was as well, following the same process once I realized I wanted them both as protagonists.
As far as "seat of my pants" versus planning goes ... I'm a planner. I can do some "seat of my pants" but it's still 70% planned, even if just in my head. I held off writing Shadow of an Empire for almost a year while I worked out the details of the crime Nirren was committing. I still remember the "Eureka!" moment when it all clicked. Something like Jungle I already knew all the story beats of. Axtara - Banking and Finance, which is my current project, is a bit less planned, but I still know the ending from the start, where I'm working toward, and what beats I need to hit along the way for that to work. The truest "pantsing" in my works just comes from the characters being themselves and carrying me along for the ride ... but largely in the direction the story was already going.
Thanks for your question!
what's the first novel you read for fun?
Oh man ... definitely a Hardy Boys book when I was a kid ... hold on, let me jog my memory ...
I think it may have actually been The Phantom Freighter! I don't remember a lot, but the whole smuggling ring aboard a ship that kept changing its identity sounds like one of the fist books I ever read.
Good question! Made me think!
there's lots of probelm with media, have you written anything closer to or going to on utopia instead of the negative stuff ppl create?
Utopia's are tricky. Often they're very subjective, and what sounds like utopia for one reader is not that for another. Plus, by nature a Utopia can't have much conflict, hence why so many turn out to have "dark secrets" or false utopias once the story moves on.
That said, I don't think we should ever stop trying to make life better. While the setting of Colony and Jungle definitely isn't a great one at the start, the characters still try to be good people and push for change, and without spoiling too much from Jungle, things are showing signs of shifting for the better. There's just a lot of struggle along the way to make things work.
I do prefer books with protagonists readers can look up to, though, and that work to do the right thing. Salitore Amazd and Meelo Karn in Shadow of an Empire, for example, exemplify this the best. They're good people trying to make the world a safer, better place in their own way.
Thanks for the interesting question. There's definitely a lot of depressing stuff out there, or "dark for the sake of dark." Not my style.
why write/make this?
Well, the story certainly wasn't done after Colony. Though that tied up current events on Pisces pretty well, it left a lot of wider questions about the universe (such as what the drones are and who made them) unanswered. If I'd not written a sequel, I'd have been getting questions about from fans for decades to come at cons and appearances.
Plus, I knew the story wasn't done. Colony uncovered half of the wider backstory of the chunk of the galaxy mankind has explored. Jungle builds on that and answers some of those lingering questions (and I can't say more than that because, well, it's not out yet, so that'd be massive spoilers).
Plus, a lot of people fell in love with Jake, Anna, and Sweets, and couldn't wait to see them return again. So there was that too.
Now, to delve further into your question, why write at all? Because people need stories. We need things to dream about. To look up to. To experiment with ideas, concepts, and character. We learn from stories, whether or not we want to admit it. Good stories just don't entertain, they broaden the mind and widen the horizon of what we can accomplish. Getting to be part of that process? It's pretty cool.
Any advice on how to start/practice writing stories?
No really. That's the best bit of advice there is. Sit down, grab your pen, keyboard, whatever, and start writing. Make it up as you go. Does it suck? Can you see issues? Sure. But keep writing. Don't stop and backtrack, especially on your first thing. You'll get trapped in an editing spiral and never leave.
Read a lot too. No great writer was not a reader. All of them were voracious. Read stuff you like. Ask yourself "how do they make this scene come alive?" or similar questions, especially for things you notice you have issues with in your own writing.
Don't stop writing. Keep at it. Don't wait for a muse. There's no such thing as writer's block. Push onward. Write your first story, and your second. And your third.
Check out writing advice sources like the Writing Excuses Podcast or Being a Better Writer (that one's my own) for beginning advice or more specific topics like character voice, PoV, and other writing elements.
Keep writing. Write what you want to write, what you enjoy. Get it done, then worry about fixing it.
Keep writing. Keep practicing. Try new things. Change up your characters. Or your setting. Experiment. If it goes bad, learn and move on!
Good luck! It's a lot of work, but it's a love.
What inspired you to write Jungle?
Also, is there a specific theme or message you want your readers to gain, or would you prefer to leave it open to interpretation?
The book that came before it, Colony. ;)
Sorry, it was too easy to resist. Now, what inspired me to write Colony and kick the whole thing off, well ... Honestly, it was just the idea that really got into my skull and got itching. I had the idea for this alien, water-covered world, and a cool buoyancy trick. Which is already an anomaly if it's completely covered (because single-biome is weird and unlikely), and only makes it more alien.
The idea itched. And started to take shape the more I thought of it. I'd learned at one point during a buoyancy lecture in college that sometimes a sinking ship won't go to the bottom, but to wherever it's buoyant. So I started imagining what it would be like to find a ship like that ... and well, Colony grew out of that idea. It doesn't even show up in the final book, but that's what the idea grew out of.
Colony is fairly open-ended, as far as message goes. It certainly doesn't look at the audience and say "Hey, this is what you should think." It does have a lot of ideas in it that it presents, and characters voice various opinions on those ideas, but it leaves it up to the reader as to whether or not they agree with them.
Probably the hardest stance it takes with an idea is a somewhat reactionary one. I don't know if you've noticed, but a lot of Sci-Fi tends to subscribe to one of two ideas: Big government is good, and companies are bad, or Big Companies are good, and big government is bad.
Colony throws the reader into a world where both exist, and both suck. As one character puts it, there are the big megacorps, who own whole countries outright, there's the authoritarian United Nations, who act as a de-facto government for pretty much everyone else ... and anyone not affiliated with either is just an ant not trying to get stepped on between the two.
Again, this isn't a message of the book (I personally hate it when a book starts beating you over the head with "Hey, this is what you should believe") but it is a theme that shows up, and the protags muddle their way through it as best they can. I suppose if one were to extrapolate from Rodriguez's goals and aims, there's definitely a theme of "Power corrupts, and we want a world where there are rules and regulations, but those who set them aren't doing so to their own advantage at the expense of others." But then that runs headlong into the challenge of "If you can set that up, you're already in a position to abuse it to your own benefit." Rodriguez, for example, clearly studies history in Colony of selfless revolutionaries like George Washington, and then in Jungle we do see him struggling with the fact that he's only a few steps away from a despot in trying to hold Pisces together and set up something that will last.
But he's not a protagonist, and so what we see there comes from the eyes of other characters. I really would be curious to see what a fan would come up with if they took a thematic look at Colony and Jungle on their own.
There is one other thing I would bring up though, that is definitely a theme as I wrote it, and that's the idea of good intentions gone wrong or too far. In Colony, for example, Jake, Anna, and Sweets actively (and unintentionally) make everything worse. They're doing the best they can with the hand they've been dealt, and arguably them setting everything off is certainly better than it would have been if left to fester until Rodriguez made his move, but the truth of the matter is in trying to do their job, they do set off a lot of trouble. They clean it as best they can, but there are consequences.
Jungle touches on this from another angle with regards to something that starts as good intentions going to far as well with Anna and Sweets' ethnicity. Both characters find themselves hit with the (in this world) racial slur of "Skunk" by people from the US. Anna is half-Jamaican, half-Indian (but raised in Brazil), while Sweets is from the southern US and just straight African-American. Both of them find themselves under fire from other African-Americans for working with Jake, who is just a catch-all melting pot of who-knows-what. Skunk. White-on-Black. That one's pulled from the real world, when ethnic groups start out looking for equality, but then soon push past that and start becoming the very thing they started out banded up against, but don't realize it.
Again though, while protag characters express distaste for it, plus other side characters, others (such as the ones doing it) support it, and the final judgement is left with the reader.
Again though, it'd be fun to see some readers look at it thematically and see what they pulled from both of them.
Good question, thanks!
Who is your favorite sci-fi / fantasy author? If it's a different answer, who inspired you most in your writing?
Picking myself is obviously out of the question and a cop-out, so I won't say that! ;) But in seriousness, I think if I had to pick a single favorite, I couldn't really just settle on one. A few of my favorite authors, however, I can do. In no order, I'd go with Brandon Sanderson, Timothy Zahn, and Larry Correia. Each for different reasons. Brandon is great at worldbuilding and loves eschewing traditional fantasy tropes. Zahn is the king of misdirection; I've never read anything by anyone else as good as he is at drawing the reader's attention away from major clues so that they don't put the puzzle pieces together until the end.
I mean seriously, in one of his books he drops the clue you need to solve everything right in your lap in the first third of the book. If you catch it, you'll solve the big mystery right there. But I, and so many other readers, just kind of gloss over it because he's successfully directed our attention elsewhere.
Correia just for action. The guy writes good, gripping action, and that's his biggest draw and strength. Gun fights, mage battles, sword and spear ... whatever, he just nails it.
That said, those three are just some of the authors I'll gladly hunt down a new release for. There are plenty of other authors I enjoy reading, from Naomi Novik to Brian McClellan.
As to who inspired me most in my writing, I know a lot of my fans guess "Sanderson" because A) I was one of his students in college and B) I do tend to write massive, heavy Epics plus C) I write like a machine as he does (3000-4000 words a day) ... but that's not who I attribute my foremost inspiration to.
That honor goes to Timothy Zahn. I love his skill in misdirection, of giving out all the puzzle pieces to the reader well and early on, but in such a way that the reader holds them upside down so they don't fit, or doesn't realize their importance. While there's influence in my writing from every author I grew up reading, from Salvatore to Prachett, Zahn's skill with misdirection was one I always admired, and you can see the influence in my work. For example, Shadow of an Empire has a reveal near the end that catches some readers off-guard. A few have asked me about it, knowing from my work that there's clearly a clue they missed.
It's in the third sentence of the very opening of the story. And constantly brought up thereafter. Readers just kind of see it, nod, and move on, their brain just filing it as "Yeah sure" and then make the connection later.
I love that kind of thing. Yes, I can trace inspiration from a number of sources. Sanderson for my expansive, unique settings. Correia and Salvatore for action. Prachett for the occasional bit of wit (the man was a master, and I am but a student where comedy is concerned). But Zahn really made me love the puzzle of putting all the little pieces together.
It's not for nothing that some of my fans have commented that they're genuinely surprised when I write something that couldn't have the "mystery" genre applied to it.
Thanks for your question!
What were some of your favorite things to read as a kid?
I loved a lot of mystery, Science-Fiction, and Fantasy. Devoured it in huge quantities. I actually got started reading with Sonic the Hedgehog comics, since I loved the game a friend had, and there was a comic I could read with that character while I waited in the grocery story as small child (seriously parents, a comic can be a good thing). Not long after that, my mom introduced me to the Hardy Boys books, which I began devouring one after another. At the same time, she liked reading to us when we were younger, and would read things like The Wind in the Willows or The Hobbit (which I later picked up and read on my own).
I read through all of CS Lewis Narnia books, read a lot of Goosebumps, but around 5th grade discovered Michael Crichton (because he'd written about dinosaurs) and moved over to the other half of my local library. Zahn, Prachett, Salvatore, and more all followed. Plus I read through all of Animorphs, which looking back as an adult was hugely dark for a teen series.
There was a lot around that (Star Wars novels for one, after finding Zahn), but those were some of the highlights. I read what I loved.
Thanks for asking!
Related to the above question about your favorite authors, who is an author, in Sci fi or otherwise, that people should know about but probably don't?
Oooh, good question! But I've got answers!
Obviously I'm not going to miss a chance to say "Me!" and throw a plug in. I'm not that big, but a lot of my fans agree I need a lot more attention on my works. But outside of a shameless self plug there are definitely a few lesser-known authors I've found that I've enjoyed the works of. Such as:
Peter Clines. Fold was what took him out of "niche" territory (he got his start writing about a superhero zombie post-apocalypse which is fun, but limited in audience) and into "Hey, this is quality Sci-Fi that'll appeal to everyone!" I don't want to spoil what twist Fold holds, but it's a fun, suspenseful read.
Brain McClellan. Probably the most popular guy on this list, but if the idea of a Napoleonic-age fantasy with gunpowder mages who snort the stuff like cocaine to do magic sounds interesting to you, grab it. You won't be disappointed, I think.
Todd McAulty. The Robots of Gotham. I've plugged this one on my site, and I'm waiting for the sequel (may it come soon). It reminded me a lot of my own Colony in style and the kind of "Whoa" future it presents, so if you like one, you'll very likely like the other.
Shelley Adina. An indie author writing steampunk, the first three chapters of her first book were so stereotypical of "teen romance but with fantasy steampunk" that I actually resolved to read it just to mock it. Then the third chapter ends with her father committing suicide, she ends up homeless on the street and (accidentally) becomes a criminal underlord by carving out a new home with a stolen lightning rifle while still trying to be her normal face in society and ... Yeah, not everyone's cup of tea, and certainly not an action read, but more people who are into that kind of thing should find her work.
Thanks for your question! That was a good one!
Have you read anything good lately?
Yes! I actually just finished The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang, which is non-fiction and kind of depressing, but an absolute must read if you're at all interested in the economy and sweeping avalanche of automation engulfing us all at the moment (which I'd written a few articles on before on my own, so I was interested). I actually do read non-fiction here and there, mostly for research purposes.
But recent books I finished that were memorable and enjoyable that aren't non-fiction included Peter Clines' Fold which was a fun take on science gone wrong, and House of Assassins, the second Son of the Black Sword book by Larry Correia. Not too recent, but Wrath of Empire by McClellan was a blast too!
A lot of my reading has slowed down with all the editing leading up to Jungle's launch (when you spend 10+ hours staring at text doing edits, reading can feel taxing, even for fun), but I've already got some books I'm looking forward to reading stacked by my desk!
Thanks for the questions!
I love SciFi.
What are your favorite current SciFi authors, which authors have influenced your writing and which authors made you want to be a writer?
How you would describe your own flavour of SciFi?
And lastly, gimme a quick salespitch. What makes me want to buy your book?
Ooh, here we go! Let's see. Zahn (still writing!) for sure, Todd McAulty (one book but it's solid), Peter Clines (Fold was fun, let's get more!), Jack Campbell (All the fleet actions!), and Andy Weir (he's got to be coming out with another eventually).
Iain Banks is not longer with us, so he's not current. But those are some of the Sci-Fi authors I've read in the last year.
The authors that have influenced my writing the most are Zahn, Sanderson, Salvatore, and Correia. For mystery and misdirection, worldbuilding, action (swords), and action (guns), respectively. Salvatore and Zahn were to two in my youth that made me really imagine what I could do with writing, though, with their stories, characters, and worlds.
My own flavor of Sci-Fi is definitely ... Well, I'd call it Mystery Sci-Fi Space Opera, but some of my readers feel that doesn't do it justice. One reviewer for Colony felt it was more cyberpunk, another that it was like Crichton and Clancy. There are definitely shades of Military Sci-Fi when the action gets going, from fleets slamming into one another to a protag that's a mercenary with more than a passing familiarity with guns, but there's also a protag that's a hacker who delves into hacking (realistic, not Hollywood) that feels more cyberpunk.
Personally, I'd just call it Epic Space-Opera with a heavy dose of Mystery to it, but there's no denying that it hits a lot of notes along the way.
I'll pitch you Colony rather than Jungle, as Jungle is the sequel to Colony (making the pitch easy but not exactly worth it if you've not read that first).
Colony is an Epic Sci-Fi Adventure about three people sent to a colony world to track down a missing computer programmer—and rapidly getting in over their heads. If you like books with lots of depth to the setting (pun intended), firm mystery, Sci-Fi action, then you'll likely enjoy it. If the idea of two fleets of submarines slamming into one another in a climactic navel engagement like something out of Star Wars, then you'll like what Colony has to offer. If you like your hacking realistic, rather than "slap those keys!" then you'll like it. And if you enjoy (spoiler alert) BDOs, or Big Dumb Objects mankind encounters and reacts to, then Colony has you covered. The more you like those things, the more you'll enjoy it.
Thanks for asking! Go give Colony a look. You can read something like the first 180 pages for free on Amazon, so it's easy to get an image of.
You should probably consolidate these into one. Reddit doesn't like spam.
how exactly are we experimenting with those thigns and how would experimenting produce 'things to look up to'?
Stories can explore how new things can impact people, from something as simple to the smartphone to FTL travel. Verne wrote about people traveling to the moon, or around the world in a then impossibly short length of time. Wells wrote about Martians invading.
These ideas made people think, wonder, and sometimes strive to accomplish those things on their own. People did journey around the world in short times after Verne wrote about it. Man did go to the moon.
Stories make us think.
what exactly are we learning that couldnt be learnt elsewhere? or via other methods/ways?
Well, show me another book examining the impact of mercantilism in the distant future on a colony world of water? Unless you have an FTL ship, a planet, and a government at your whim to test such things yourself, the only way to theorize what may be is to tell a story about it.
what 'horizon' are we referring to exactly? how do media representations 'widen the horizon' of what we can achieve?
A personal horizon. Or a societal one. Two centuries ago, the idea that man could fly, much less go to the moon, was ludicrous. Dismissed, even, as a scientific impossibility. And yet, bold minds wrote about it, and other people started to see past the barriers society had set for them. Their horizon widened.
Now we fly in airplanes as if it is nothing. Society's horizon was widened. Through books we can see the world through the eyes of someone (or something) very different from us, and widen our own perspective.
what writing softare do you use to keep all your note/info organised, and easiely findable?
I use MS Word 2010 for the stories themselves. Notes on a story I keep in one of two places: on a GDoc file so I can access them anywhere if they're very important lore details like cities or currency, or on sticky notes on my desk if it's stuff like "Character had this many shots left in this chapter, don't forget!"